Directed By: Michael Anderson
Starring: David Niven, Cantinflas, Finlay Currie
Tag line: "...and the whole world loves it!"
Trivia: This film used 140 sets built at six Hollywood studios, as well as in England, Hong Kong and Japan
Hollywood turned out some big movies in the 1950s, including such monumental epics as The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Giant, The Bridge on the River Kwai and How the West Was Won. One of the decade’s most successful large-scale motion pictures was producer Mike Todd’s 1956 adventure / fantasy Around the World in 80 Days, a movie featuring over 40 stars (many in cameo roles) and thousands of extras, with shooting locations in England, Spain, Hong Kong, Japan, and the U.S. According to estimates, the wardrobe department alone spent some $410,000 on costumes, creating nearly 75,000 of them in the process!
Based on the novel by Jules Verne, Around the World in 80 Days transports us to London in the year 1872. Phileas Fogg (David Niven), a respected member of the prestigious Reform Club, makes a wager with several other members that, in 80 days, he can circumnavigate the entire globe. Intent on winning the bet, Fogg, with his new vale Passepartout (Cantinflas) in tow, sets off on what will prove to be a grand adventure, taking him to such exciting locales as Spain (where Passepartout tries his luck at bullfighting), Bombay (where they rescue the beautiful Princess Aouda, played by Shirley MacLaine, from religious zealots who were about to burn her alive), and the American West (where Fogg and the others narrowly escape a Sioux raiding party). Also tagging along is Police Inspector Fix (Robert Newton) of Scotland Yard, who’s convinced Fogg is the thief that recently stole £55,000 from the Bank of England. Hoping to collect the £2,000 reward posted for the crook’s capture, Inspector Fix follows Fogg on his global trek with the intention of arresting him the moment he sets foot on British soil. But the question remains: will Fogg complete his journey in 80 days?
Along with its many “big” scenes (like Passepartout’s attempt at bull fighting and the shoot-out with the Sioux, who attack the train Fogg and his companions are traveling on), Around the World in 80 Days boasts a star-studded cast, with such well-known celebrities as John Gielgud, Marlene Dietrich, Buster Keaton, Charles Boyer, Peter Lorre and Red Skelton popping up from time to time. While most have very limited roles (Frank Sinatra, as a barroom piano player in San Francisco, doesn’t utter a single line), a few performers do manage to leave their mark on the film (John Carradine’s loud-mouthed politician, Col. Stamp Proctor, even gets to challenge Phileas Fogg to a duel). As for the two main stars, David Niven portrays Fogg as a perfect English gentleman who, due to his obsession with punctuality, always finds a way out of a jam (after learning that the train to Marseilles will be delayed, he purchases a hot-air balloon and flies it over the alps), while Mexican star Cantinflas ends up having most of the fun (aside from his bullfighting exploits, his Passepartout also briefly joins a troupe of acrobats in Japan). But the real driving force behind Around the World in 80 Days was its producer, Mike Todd, who, in bringing this elaborate tale to the big screen, dragged his cameras to a number of exotic locations, resulting in a film that’s as much a world travelogue as it is a rousing adventure.
Known as a master showman thanks to his years on Broadway (where he dabbled in everything from striptease to opera), Mike Todd may not have been the most experienced producer in Hollywood (this was his first and only film), but he was definitely one of the most determined. And with Around the World in 80 Days, his tenacity paid off in a big way.